File photo: Ihsaan Haffejee

Johannesburg - The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s acting CEO, Peggy Drodskie, announced on Thursday that the Copper Theft Barometer level had increased to R13.6-million in April, from R12.6-million in March 2015.

Drodskie said: “The April figure is 7.08 percent higher than a month ago, and 0.11 percent lower than a year ago. Bearing in mind that the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry Copper Theft Barometer is based only on theft from Eskom, Telkom and Transnet, and considering that it comprises only the cost of replacing the metal; this figure is but a drop in the ocean when the impact on the economy is taken into account.”

Drodskie said recent estimates put the loss to the country’s economy between R5-billion and R7-billion per year.

“The Copper Theft Volume Indicator increased to 179 metric tons in April 2015 from 173 metric tons in March 2015. This is concerning considering that replacement of the stolen cables has to take place before essential maintenance. Eskom in particular, needs the cash flow to invest in maintenance at power stations,” said Drodskie.

Drodskie stated that South African exports of waste copper products had increased significantly to $7.2-million in March from $3.4-million in January and $7-million in August 2014. This, she said, was worrying as “South Africa has only two percent of the global copper reserves, but now has the reputation of being the largest exporter of copper to China and India. There is thus a disconnect between the amount of copper mined and that being exported.”

The international average monthly spot price of copper increased to $6 432 in April from $ 6 026 in March 2015.

South Africa, said Drodskie, was not the only country that faces this scourge when it came to copper theft. Internationally, copper theft was increasing and reports on this type of theft were being received from many countries worldwide.

“Professor Bradly Mills, Director of Law Enforcement at the Institute of Scrap Recycling in Washington says that copper theft costs the USA economy more than $1 billion per annum. Each of the USA states has legislation to combat copper theft, and some even go as far as requiring photographs of vehicles, the items presented and of the sellers,” said Drodskie.

The relationship between the level of theft, the US dollar price and the volume of theft had been levelled over the past several months, albeit with fluctuations. However, an upward movement in the level of exports since the beginning of the year was discernible.

Given these stringent legislation that countries have started to implement in combating copper theft, Drodski mentioned that Sacci strongly believed that the time was now appropriate for the effectiveness of the current legislation to be interrogated to determine if not only whether the provisions are adequate, but also whether or not the fact that copper theft has been designated a high priority crime is being fully recognised by law enforcement and justice authorities.

Drodskie said: “It is debatable whether the upward trend is due to greater demand, an increase in the price during the past months or to more lax implementation and policing of the Second Hand Goods Act, in spite of copper theft being designated a high priority crime.”